The Witness Tells His Version of the March on the RTI

The witness of the day, a Rally of Republicans (RDR) activist shot and wounded during the march on the RTI, answered the defense’s questions on Monday, November 28. The discussion was on how this day of December 16, 2010 was organized and conducted.

These are the specific details on the December 16 march that the defense lawyers of Laurent Gbagbo and Charles Blé Goudé sought to obtain. Ben Soumahoro Vaphings, an RDR activist, gave his version of the facts. The witness described how, as chairman of the party’s core committee, he had relayed “the watchword” from the leadership of the RHDP (Rally of Houphouetists for Democracy and Peace) two or three days before the march. While the party cadres were confined to the Golf Hotel, he allegedly received these instructions by telephone from three spokespersons, Messieurs Adjoumani and Guy Kaowé and Mrs. Anne Ouloto. Thus, once he knew the guidelines, in particular the route to be taken by the march, the witness allegedly started to “mobilize” the party base in the Adjamé Marie Thérèse neighborhood.

The witness denies any presence of the rebels

“Did you know that this march was not authorized?” asked Andreas O’Shea, one of Gbagbo’s lawyers.

“It was authorized by the democratically elected President,” replied the witness, insisting that the Defense and Security Forces were “illegal.”

When questioned about the security process set up around the march, the militant denied any rebel presence. According to him, the “people who came to infiltrate the marches” were “supporters of Laurent Gbagbo’s government.”

Coming back to the topic, the witness explained that, in his opinion, “there was no more rebellion” in Abidjan at that time because Guillaume Soro “had been appointed prime minister,” and the army was split into two camps, the New Forces confined to the Golf Hotel and the Defense and Security Forces.

Returning to the march, the activist said the protesters in his neighborhood had gathered at seven in the morning at 220 Logements. The objective, he said, was to join the RDR headquarters at Lepic Street before marching on the RTI. However, things obviously did not go as planned.

Ben Soumahoro Vaphings explained that he had lost control of the marchers once they reached the party headquarters. While the organizers wanted to “wait for the green light” from the leaders of the RHDP to go to the RTI, “the tension rose,” explained the witness. “The marchers no longer listened to us, it was impossible to control things,” he admitted.

Thus, “a crowd stampede” started and the protesters allegedly were divided into two groups, following two separate routes to the RTI. Gbagbo’s lawyer grilled the activist to find out if there had been any “provocation” from these marchers. In particular, the witness’s brother was killed that day. Again, Ben Soumahoro Vaphings denied, while admitting that he “did not control everything,” and the march gathered 5,000 to 10,000 people according to him.

Credibility put to the test by the defense

Left outside the RDR headquarters, the militant allegedly saw the protesters returning and took refuge in a building under construction. “They were running in all directions, and there was indiscriminate shooting,” he testified, swearing that the protesters “were not armed.”

Blé Goudé’s defense then called for “clarifications” from the witness, especially on the aforementioned places and the routes that the marchers allegedly took. Jean-Serge Gbougnon, counsel for the accused, tried to confront the witness with his previous statements in order to test his credibility. In particular, the lawyer asked the witness in which group his brother had left, and got a different response from that previously given to the prosecution.

“I forget from time to time but the general idea remains,” justified the activist.

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Laurent Gbagbo and Charles Blé Goudé are charged with four counts of crimes against humanity, including murder, rape, and other inhumane acts, or – in the alternative – attempted murder and persecution. The accused allegedly committed these crimes during post-electoral violence in Côte d’Ivoire between December 16, 2010 and April 12, 2011.

This summary comes from Ivoire Justice, a project of Radio Netherlands Worldwide (RNW), which offers monitoring and commentary on the ICC’s proceedings arising from the post-election violence that occurred in Cote d’Ivoire in 2010-2011. It has been translated into English for use on International Justice Monitor.

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